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Graffiti Terminology

A number of words and phrases have come to describe different styles and aspects of graffiti. Like all slang and colloquialisms the phrases vary in different cities and countries. Below is a selection of terminology from the USA:

  • tag - a stylized signature; the terms tagger and writer refer to a person who "tags". A tag can be distinguished from a piece by its relative simplicity. Tags are usually comprised of a single color that contrasts sharply with its background. Tag can also be used as a verb which means "to sign". Writers often tag their pieces following the tradition of signing masterpieces. Another type of tag is a "dust tag", done in dust by writers wishing to practice. Not commonly popular.
  • piece (from "masterpiece") - a large image, often with 3-D effects, arrows giving flow and direction, many colors and color-transitions and various other effects. A piece needs more time than a throw-up. If placed in a difficult location and well executed it will earn the writer more respect. Piece can also be used as a verb that means: "to write".
  • throw-up - defined by the short amount of time it takes to create, a throw-up is not a piece. It generally consists of an outline (like black) and one layer of fill-color (like silver). Easy-to-paint bubble-shapes often form the letters. Throw-ups are often utilized by writers who wish to achive a large number of tags while competing with rival artists. The short amount of time it takes to complete a throw-up reduces the risk of getting "busted".
  • sticky - a sticker (usually taken from a post office) and has the writer's tag on it.
  • bombing (as in the phrases to bomb or to hit) describes painting many surfaces. Throw-ups or tags are often utilized, since they don't require much time to execute.
  • crew or cru has become the standard collective noun for a group of writers or graffiti-artists. Some crews are members of gangs, or are associated with gangs for art materials or protection during the process of creation, but many crews are unaffiliated with gangs.
  • writers become up when their work becomes widespread and well-known. To "get up" in a city involves tagging, bombing and making good pieces (see the graffiti-themed video game Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure)
  • to slash' somebody's tag (to put a line through, or tag over it) counts as a deep insult. This is also known as "capping", "marking", "buffing" and dissing; which originates from disrespecting.
  • the phrase back to back refers to a graffiti that covers a wall from end to end, as seen on some parts of the West-Berlin side of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, trains sometimes receive end to end painting; which means a carriage has been painted along its entire length (but not to the top of the carriage). This is often abbreviated to "e2e". End to ends used to be called window-downs but this is an older expression that is falling from popularity.
  • top-to-bottom pieces on trains cover the whole height of the car. A top-to-bottom, end-to-end production is called a whole-car. A production with several writers might cover a whole-train, which means the entire side of the train has been covered.
  • burner - typically a large, elaborate piece, more elaborate than a normal piece. It refers to the piece "burning" out of the wall or train-side. Burners often originate legally, because of the time and effort put into them, but the great early writers of New York also did burners illegally on trains.
  • insides are tags or bombs done inside trains, trams, or buses. In 1970s New York, there was as much graffiti inside the subway trains as outside, and the same is true of some cities today (like Rome, Italy and Melbourne, Australia). While prolific, insides are often less artistic and seldom documented.
  • going over - (go over) if a writer goes over or tags upon another writer's piece, it is the same as declaring war against the opponent writer. Most writers respect others' work, and the basic rules for replacing other creations are in this order: tag - throwup - piece. You should only paint over another's work if it has been slashed (or "dissed") already or if you will be creating something better than the original piece. As what constitutes "better" is highly subjective, this often leads to disagreements. If someone breaks these guidelines the person is considered a "toy", or generally an annoyance.
  • toy - an inexperienced or unskilled writer. Graffiti pros use this as a derogatory term for new writers in the scene.
  • king - inside or outside kings are writers with a certain amount of respect among other writers. To own the inside means you have most tags inside trains, and to own the outside means having most pieces on the train surface. One should note that their are kings of style among a variety of other categories and the term is regionally subjective. Self-declared kings will often incorporate crowns into their pieces; a commonly used element of style.
  • buffing - (to buff) to remove a graffiti painting with chemicals and other instruments.

To gain notoriety, and make pieces difficult to remove, graffiti artists will sometimes paint hard-to-reach spots such as rooftops. Such heavens pieces (also commonly known as giraffiti), by the nature of the spot often pose dangerous challenges to execute.

  • nic - (to nic) to steal another artists ideas or lettering schemes. Seasoned artists will often complain about 'toys' that nic their work.
  • bite - (to bite) an oldschool NYC term for nic .
  • Etch can refer to the use of acid solutions intended for creating frosted glass to write on windows.
  • paintEATER refers to surfaces coated with a certain chemical that causes spray to be consumed thus implying the words painteater

Another technique sometimes referred to as scratchitti involves making purposely hard-to-remove graffiti by scratching or etching a tag into an object, generally using a key or another sharp object such as a knife, stone, ceramic drill bit, or diamond tipped Dremel bit. The Mohs scale of mineral hardness determines which stones or other objects will scratch what surfaces.

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